There’s a sacramental storm started. The Vatican has declared that any individual variations to the authorised words that the person pouring or immersing uses at the time of baptism makes the “baptism” not just irregular but invalid. Specifically, changing “N, I baptise you…” to “N, we baptise you…” means, according to the Vatican, that no baptism has taken place. [Read the official ruling here].
This has become newsworthy with Father Matthew Hood of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Recently watching the video of his baptism, he noticed that he was “baptised” by a Roman Catholic deacon who said, “we baptise you…” rather than “I baptise you…”
This means, in Vatican theology, that Matthew Hood was not a priest. Obviously, you don’t need to be a priest to baptise, so Matthew Hood’s baptisms are valid – according to this approach – but his eucharists, absolutions, anointing, confirmations, and marriages were not.
Following this understanding, there will be many, many more cases like this – and the publicity around this will have many, many people wondering, for example: “is my marriage valid?”
Let me say, at the outset, that I am not in favour of breaking our agreements – in my Church, we vow and sign to use, “N, I baptise…” (NZPB/HKMA p. 386) But I am not about to say that those who use other words are invalid. Eastern Orthodox use:
The servant of God (name) is baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.Holy Baptism page 59
I did a quick online search of “we baptise” (and “we baptize”) and found a plethora of mainline churches and denominations that use that language. By the Vatican ruling, ecumenical agreements may be being dismantled. Mutual recognition of baptism is at risk.
The concept of a baptismal “form” (the words required to be said at the time of the sacramental action) dates from the 13th Century. I argue that verbally proclaiming “…in the name of the Father, and of the Son…” at the time of the baptism is a lens we use to read such a form back into early documents. Early church mentions of baptising “in the name of…” can be seen as baptising on behalf of and into the nature of rather than the verbal proclamation(s) that we now associate with such language. If you want to follow this thinking read:
Let me repeat – for those who misunderstand my point – I am not advocating for abandoning the agreements that we vowed to and signed up for by altering our agreed wording. This is simply suggesting that if not using these currently-authorised words is used to argue that baptism (and hence all subsequent sacraments) are thereby invalid, then the logical consequence might be that possibly all sacraments are no longer valid because these words were not used in the early church.
Part of the discussion around using “I baptise…” rather than “We baptise…” focuses on the theological understanding of baptising. The former has a focus on the one baptising doing this in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). The later wording may more stress that the one baptising is doing this in nomine ecclesiae (in the name of the gathered community). Might I suggest that the distinction is not this binary. The one baptising is doing both – acting in persona Christi and in nomine ecclesiae. Furthermore, the gathered community, the church, is the Body of Christ.
The RC Church has just opened a myriad of drum barrels of worms for itself. Many people who take the Detroit/Vatican approach will be going back over videos; others will wonder how widespread the “we baptise”-practice was (is?), whether their marriage is valid, etc…